Judy Collins

TrackAlbum
Maid Of Constant SorrowA Maid Of Constant Sorrow
Turn! Turn! Turn! ...Judy Collins 3
Pack Up Your SorrowsFifth Album
Tom Thumb's BluesIn My Life
Had Lovin' LoserIn My Life
In My LifeIn My Life
AlbatrossWildflowers
PriestsWildflowers
First Boy I LovedWho Knows Where The Time Goes
Bird On The WireWho Knows Where The Time Goes

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Judy Collins photo

Judy Collins, Newport Folk Festival, 1967 (by Tom Copi/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

 

Contributor: Dave Stephens

In 1960, Jac Holzman celebrated the 10th anniversary of Elektra, the label he founded to capitalise on his twin passions for folk music and audio engineering. Elektra had, by that date, featured a range of artists including Jean Ritchie, Josh White, Theodore Bikel, Ed McCurdy, Peggy Seeger and Oscar Brand, some names still resonating through the years and others less remembered but still significant. He also recorded music from so many countries that he was effectively bringing World Music to his audience several decades before anyone dreamed up the term. Jac was 29. He’d made a vow early in life to be a millionaire before he reached the age of 35. While that wasn’t looking likely, Jac firmly believed that by 1960 he’d overtaken other New York based folk indie labels, Tradition, Folkway and Riverside and was drawing level with Vanguard which addressed a wider span of music genres encompassing classical, folk, jazz and blues (source: for most of the information in this paragraph and throughout the post: “Follow The Music: The Life And High Times Of Elektra Records In The Great Years Of American Pop Culture” written by Jac Holzman and Gavan Daws).

Things were about to change.

In January 1961, a lad from Hibbing, Minnesota who called himself Bob Dylan arrived in New York, initially to see his idol Woody Guthrie in hospital and then to start a career for himself, starting in the city’s clubs and bars. Some months before Dylan’s arrival, the Vanguard label had signed Joan Baez, a lady who’d created a strong impression on the audience at the 1959 Newport Folk Festival when she performed barefoot, introduced by Elektra folk artist Bob Gibson.

Jac was rankled at missing out on signing Baez (and that was the word he used in recalling his reaction). However that same Bob Gibson who, it seems, had an eye for talent, recommended that Jac take a look at a lady called Judy Collins who was performing in NYC. To quote Gibson (from “Follow The Music”), “Because, good as Joan was, I thought Judy had more depth and life, and I told Jac so.”

The deal was done and there’s more on Judy’s background, her start in music and the early records in the footnotes but for now let’s skip to the final track on 1963’s Judy Collins 3, Turn! Turn! Turn! (To Everything There Is a Season), a song originating with Pete Seeger:

The arrangement came from Jim McGuinn, as he was then known. Prior to the album sessions, Judy had a tip about McGuinn and she flew to Las Vegas where he was playing, backing Bobby Darin (in his folk phase) at the Flamingo. She was particularly impressed with his banjo playing and took him on board for the sessions. It was he who came up with what he called a “Bach sounding” riff for Turn! Turn! Turn! (source: The Notes to “Forever Changing” – see first Footnote)

I feel a comment coming on about the approach to the recording of this number (and several others on Judy Collins 3). To state the rather obvious, there are several components that make up a piece of recorded music: lyrics, melody, vocal (assuming present), arrangement, delivery (of the arrangement) and production. One of the main ways that folk music had often differentiated itself from most popular, hit parade style music, was by minimising the components towards the end of that list, reflecting the limited facilities including instrumentation available to early folk performers. But adding real arrangements to folk or folk style numbers wasn’t entirely new. It had been done in the fifties though swing or the alternative of a syrupy style of arrangement weren’t always an ideal fit for such songs. In the sixties, artists were starting to move more in this direction with Judy at the fore; possibly her background in classical music gave her greater empathy for this approach. Dylan didn’t make the switch till 1965 with Bringing It All Back Home (though that did incorporate electricity).

Coming back to this particular track, the more delicate and considered approach by Collins and McGuinn to Turn! Turn! Turn! are, for me, far better than earlier attempts on the number (see Footnotes for more on the song’s genealogy) and form a basis for much of her later work.

Of perhaps more significance on Judy Collins 3 than the increase in effort in the framing of Judy’s voice was the attention given to contemporary songwriters. Two songs came from Dylan, one from Ewan MacColl, one Pete Seeger, one Woody Guthrie plus Come Away Melinda written by ex-Weaver Fred Hellerman and Fran Mintoff.

Judy’s fifth album entitled, yup, Fifth Album – the one in-between was devoted to a concert appearance though it did have new songs – extended the inclusion of contemporary songwriters to the extent that the song selection only included two traditional numbers. By now, Jim McGuinn had disappeared off to form the Byrds and, somewhat later, to get himself a new forename. He took with him the prototype for Turn! Turn! Turn! plus The Bells Of Rhymney (also from Judy Collins 3), and John Riley which was in her repertoire from the first album (see top clip). In his place Judy found another musical mentor and springboard in Richard Fariña, though to be strictly correct, Richard found her: “The first time I met him was in 1960 at a folk festival near New Haven. He was married to his first wife Carolyn Hester at the time. He grabbed hold of me and proceeded to sing me two or three songs. It was just dazzling” (source: her words reported in a Guardian piece on Fariña written by David Barnett on 25th March 2016).

Richard’s Pack Up Your Sorrows opened Judy’s Fifth Album and it was quite an opener. Released as a single it could have exploited the new appetite for folk rock which had been discovered by McGuinn and the Byrds with Mr. Tambourine Man earlier in the year (1965). Both records had simple, vaguely folky and certainly catchy melody lines. Pack Up Your Sorrows didn’t quite have the “jingle jangle morning” of Bob’s lyrics but what it did have – something these days we’d call a differentiator – was the jingle jangle of Richard’s dulcimer with Eric Weissberg adding tasty guitar counterpoint and Judy soaring above on a track that was almost anthemic in impact.

Elsewhere on the album, the basic folk instrumentation mix of guitar, maybe second guitar and/or bass was extended or replaced by cello (on the traditional Lord Gregory), by flute (on Malvina Reynolds’ It Isn’t Nice, a live take), by harmonica (from John Sebastian on Eric Andersen’s Thirsty Boots) and, of course, by that dulcimer which appeared again as the only support on Gil Turner’s Carry It On. Almost inevitably there were Dylan tracks present and Judy found herself part of a rather cultish new trend of recording compositions by Bob which he hadn’t released himself yet. The tracks in question were Tomorrow Is A Long Time and Daddy, You’ve Been On My Mind and both were excellent renditions, the second enhanced by Danny Kalb’s picking. I’ll pass though on the inclusion of Mr Tambourine Man. I’m not sure the world needed another one after the Byrds’ transformation of the number.

If Fifth Album was a clear extension and evolution of the trends seen on Judy Collins 3 then 1966’s album #6, In My Life was a leap through hyperspace. AllMusic refer to Fifth as Judy’s “last straight, folk-based album of the 1960s” and I agree with their term “folk-based”. The songs were ones which, when sung by their authors, would these days be termed singer/songwriter rather than folk. She had discovered two important new singer/songwriters this time round in Leonard Cohen and Randy Newman, and perhaps, just as importantly, had discovered such artists before they’d had a sniff of fame. And she’d done justice to their songs. What I find more remarkable though is the fact that every track on the set had something striking about it, with those in the first and last positions particularly so (see also Footnotes).

The version of Tom Thumb’s Blues (or Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues in its original incarnation) was and still is, one of the most unusual interpretations of a Dylan number that’s ever been recorded. Coming at the start, it immediately told us that this album would have a different sonic signature than anything that had preceded it. A 22-year-old classical musician called Joshua Rifkin had been given the responsibility of arranging seven of the eleven songs. Rifkin was a musician and musicologist in the early stage of his career who’d already had involvement with Elektra over several years but had no directly relevant experience prior to taking this role on In This Life. Enough chat though, this is Judy’s Tom Thumb’s Blues, one of the tracks which saw heavy involvement from Joshua.

If you want labels I’d call that baroque semi-classical with woodwind and the like replacing the small rock group in the original which had electric piano and Mike Bloomfield’s guitar driving the number. According to Wiki (and biographer Clinton Heylin), Dylan wanted a feeling of dislocation on his track. The shock value in the Collins version lies in it being almost too sweet, too pretty. And yet those upwards lifting riffs, if I can call them that, which seem to get more repetitive as the track progresses and the oh so clear vocal combine to produce a sense of melancholy and alienation which is just as effective as the Dylan cut.

The closer on In My Life was the title track and it’s hard to imagine now how controversial it seemed at the time for a folk artist, as Judy was still thought of, to cover a song from a mere pop group like the Beatles. Snobbery was rife, both within the folk scene and on the zealously guarded boundaries between folk and other music. Dylan had done his damnedest to break down these boundaries (and been criticised by the ‘old guard’ but gained a whole new audience at the same time); other artists who’d started in folk didn’t follow Bob’s lead with the same alacrity. I may be making a lot out of this but it was unconventional in ’66. The saving grace was that Judy did it well, very well, with an unplugged version totally contrasting with the Rifkin grand guignol found in other places on the album. In my humble opinion, this one easily sits in my top ten of Beatles covers.

The album didn’t let up in between those two giant bookstops. Pirate Jenny from Kurt Weill’s The Threepenny Opera, and Marat/Sade from the Brecht influenced musical play with the very long name from Peter Weiss were both big slabs of Theatre, and yes, with a capital “T”. Jacques Brel another ‘name’ writer featured also had a liking for the dramatic. Joshua deployed a whole raft of orchestral techniques to convey the drama and Judy took on the lead role with aplomb. Triumphs, and again, totally unexpected on an album from a ‘folk artist’. But my final selection from this set is something different again, Hard Lovin’ Loser from Richard Fariña was as close to sixties rock and roll as Judy ever got. The stop time arrangement with prominent harpsichord and manic piano on the chorus was miles away from the Richard and Mimi version on which a Dylan Positively Fourth Street style sneer was deployed. The Collins put down was really more adrenalized jug band than rock but it was fun.

He’s the kind of guy
Puts on a motorcycle jacket
And he weighs about
A hundred and five

There were other delights on In My Life, usually of a less surprising nature but they added up to a very fine album, her best in my view. I am aware, however, that there are a lot of readers who’ll disagree and give that award instead to album #7, 1967’s Wildflowers. It achieved her highest placing ever of No.5 in the US Album Chart – she’d been gradually building up to this since Judy Collins 3 – and Both Sides Now, the first single from the set hit number 8 in the US Pop Chart. Judy would register further hit singles but only one, Amazing Grace from Whales & Nightingales in 1970, achieved a higher rating.

Pause for a ponder:

Today I saw a television ad. which started off “Muhammed Ali did not invent the knockout punch, Elvis did not invent rock and roll, Salvador Dali did not invent painting and we (their pause) did not invent the electric car …” The advert was from Audi but I hardly noticed that because my mind had already started riffing on the second phrase. It’s true, Elvis did not invent rock and roll but I doubt whether anyone would dispute that the popular music world would have been a very different place without El. I suspect some form of rock would have emerged, possibly more aligned to the black culture but what do I know! Presley along with Dylan and the Beatles are often held up as the three greatest influences in the field of pop music. It’s a simplification but one with some truth in it. Unlike the other two, Presley was an interpreter not a creator, He started off performing his versions of other people’s songs as picked up from records then, after some success, switched to having songs written for him. Given that and the attitude to interpreters that has held sway in pop music for many decades, the statement “Elvis did not invent rock and roll” sounds so ridiculous, it’s not worth stating, but as I’ve already argued he did have a lot of very significant involvement in the popularising of that thing we call rock and roll (and I’d argue that the degree of reinvention that he put into much of his early material incorporated a form of creativity anyway).

Judy Collins was “merely” an interpreter until album #7, or six years into her recording career.

Wildflowers changed all that. Present were not one but three Judy Collins compositions for our delectation, all ballads, all of merit, and all three caused me selection agonies. I eventually went for the last in order of its placement on the album, Albatross, a title that doesn’t appear in the song. Maybe the albatross is the constant “search (of) the waves for love and your visions for a sign” while “the knot of tears around your throat is crystallizing into your design”. Was it the discovery of Joni Mitchell who gets two ‘covers’ on the set which spurred Judy into writing? (With the reason for the quotations marks being that Joni’s recording of these numbers hadn’t taken place yet, a common theme with Judy’s selections.)

Joshua Rifkin is present throughout the album and his arrangement on this track – gradually swelling, baroque but restrained baroque – is one of his best. Listening to the track again I hear echoes of the time but touches also of the theatre that Judy was so passionate about on In My Life.

Sticking with her compositions, I was sorely tempted by Sky Fell, a snippet of a song at only one minute and fifty seconds, but containing a punch line that’s devastating: “What will I do with the sky when it is empty?

One of Judy’s other loves from In My Life, Leonard Cohen, gets a generous three numbers, two of which were to appear on his debut LP in a couple of month’s time. Since I’m a big fan of that album, I’m skipping those but not without a nod to Judy’s take on Hey, That’s No Way To Say Goodbye with its gorgeous a cappella opening. Instead I’m opting for a song that Leonard never recorded or, if he did, it never saw release. Priests has religion in the middle like a stick of rock and a stream of imagery which doesn’t yield easily to analysis; a characteristic which we find in several Cohen songs. Maybe that was why it didn’t appear on the debut album. As with many of his numbers though it’s attractive melodically and the fact that Rifkin has gone with a backdrop that’s faintly evocative of Spain (or am I thinking of the Miles Davis view of Spain?), adds more to the allure. Judy delivers beautifully. Of course.

And who will write love songs for you
when I am lord at last
and your body is some little highway shrine
that all my priests have passed,
that all my priests have passed?

1968’s Who Knows Where The Time Goes was another fine album. It was the first recorded by Judy in Los Angeles and it reverted back to conventional accompaniment, albeit superstar driven, rather than Joshua Rifkin orchestral. The producer was David Anderle, recently appointed to fill a role in the new Elektra West Coast operation. There was a distinct whiff of country air about several tracks; steel guitar ace Buddy Emmons was on four of them as was axeman-for-hire James Burton (who dug out his dobro for Dylan’s Poor Immigrant). This was mighty close to pioneering since the dust had hardly settled since the release of the Byrds’ Sweetheart Of The Rodeo in late summer that same year, and The Gilded Palace Of Sin from Gram Parsons’ Flying Burrito Brothers was three months further down the track.

Our by now familiar friend Leonard Cohen got two songs in the set, one of which, Bird On The Wire, was among those to get the country treatment. I can’t call it a makeover since Ms Collins was the first person to record the song; Mr Cohen’s take wouldn’t appear until its inclusion in Songs From A Room in Spring ’69. As a consequence there’s a goodly chance that Len’s cut and quite a few more out of the 30 plus that I counted in Wiki’s essay on the number could have been influenced by Judy’s version. Lyrically, it was relatively straightforward compared with other Cohen songs, like Priests, which fitted its appearance as “just a country song”. Judy also avoided the slightly unusual cadence in the Cohen delivery which often caused problems for later artists tackling the song.

First Girl I Loved from the Incredible String Band didn’t receive the compliment of loads of covers; to the best of my knowledge, the only artists to record the song other than Messrs Heron & Williamson were Judy and, separately, Jackson Browne. The number has all the melodic quirkiness of a typical ISB song – it was written by Robin Williamson – but lyrically it’s easier to relate to than some of their oeuvre:

I want you to know, I just had to go
I want you to know, we just had to grow
And you’re probably married now, house and car and all
And you turned into a grown-up female stranger
And if I was lying near you now, I wouldn’t be here at all

Judy’s version – she changes the title to First Boy I Loved – substitutes her near three octave range voice for Williamson’s wandering (but endearing) delivery. Given my love for the original I feel that this was something that shouldn’t have worked but it did. As the song progresses through its seven and a half minutes duration there’s an ebb and flow from both Judy and accompanists – both Mort Sahl on piano and Steve Stills, her then-current romantic interest, on guitar, deserve much credit – which results in a performance that has elegance writ large over it but combined with a companionable level of looseness that draws the listener in.

I can’t leave this album without commenting on the title track. It’s superb but misses the intimacy of the Sandy Denny/Fairport original with Richard Thompson providing guitar commentary.

“The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men gang aft a-gley.” Never a truer word from Robert Burns. I was planning at this juncture to announce that that was as far as I was going to go on Judy’s albums, and also state that I was going to dive back through time to the 1965 single that didn’t appear on any of her albums (but did eventually crop up on a various artists compilation Great Lost Elektra Singles Vol.1 in 2005 followed by an appearance in the rather more splendiferous Forever Changing compilation in 2007 – see Footnotes). That single was her ‘cover’ of Dylan’s I’ll Keep It With Mine (which like several of her versions wasn’t technically a cover in that Bob’s ‘original’ hadn’t been released yet, a comment that’s applicable to several of Judy’s interpretations of songs by others, and I am repeating myself). The first part of that plan/scheme still holds true but not the second. The Fairport comparison on Who Knows Where The Time Goes triggered me into revisiting their version of I’ll Keep It With Mine (from What We Did On Our Holidays) and I have to say that it was so good that it made the take from Judy and the Elektra guys sound ragged in comparison, to the extent you wondered whether it (Judy’s) really was a finished take, and that was a charge that you’d never normally lay at Ms Collins’ door; if anything she could at times be guilty of the complete opposite. I still find the Judy version attractive, though, in that it seemed to be a deliberate attempt to replicate a Highway 61 Revisited ambiance, and although there’s no Toppermost law against me having it as a selection just because I find another version of the song superior, I decided to go elsewhere.

Indeed it provided the opportunity to satisfy a background feeling that had been nagging away at me, that I hadn’t included anything from either of Judy’s first or second albums, the ones which most clearly represented her folk period and her ability to perform such music. Several tracks appealed including John Riley which became a staple of her early stage act, and Tell Me Who I’ll Marry from Golden Apples Of The Sun, a song of Polish origin which might have accounted for its highly unusual arrangement with minor chords resolving into majors and mini-suites everywhere. But the one I eventually went for was track #1 on album #1, Maid Of Constant Sorrow, a female take on the more common I Am A Man Of Constant Sorrow. While Judy’s deeper and less nuanced voice in those days might come as a surprise to those who only know the lady from her later albums, the rendition still strikes home. It’s also an apt introduction to that album wherein a tone of seriousness and, yes, slight melancholy, is pervasive.

And to get back on track with the original plan, I felt that 1968’s Who Knows Where The Time Goes was a good place to stop. Not that Judy didn’t continue to release good and sometimes great music but her continued presence, though most certainly welcome, somehow seemed less relevant in the seventies and beyond. And that’s with no disrespect to all those fans who’ll undoubtedly disagree with me.

I see Judy, for reasons I’m not sure I can ascertain, as something of a marmite artist. Her fans buy everything – but isn’t that virtually a definition of fans? – but reviewers and critics are divided. These are the words of Robert Christgau, the self-styled “Dean of American rock critics” in his review of a Judy best-of set (Colors Of The Day: The Best Of Judy Collins):

“”Both Sides Now” could have been designed for her rich, relaxed, rather melodramatic contralto, but elsewhere you wonder why she devoted herself to popular music rather than some genuinely meaningful lifework – decorative gardening, perhaps, or distributing alms to the needy.”

A more conventional view is taken in “The Rolling Stone Record Guide” (the UK 1980 edition which just happens to be the one I own). Herewith a shortened extract from their review of several JC albums:

A Maid is rather stiff; Golden Apples is more passionate – in fact it’s one of Collins’ more stirring albums. With #3 Collins began to perform the work of contemporary songwriters … Collins at first treated contemporary songs gingerly, as if they were precious, fragile artefacts. But with Fifth Album she hit her stride. Her taste was nearly unerring … and the singing is both compassionate and dignified. Wildflowers and In My Life find Collins and arranger/producer Joshua Rifkin turning to a kind of contemporary art song …. The classically infected arrangements are often self-conscious; the material including songs by Randy Newman and Leonard Cohen, triumphs. Who Knows is her master album, however. The songs are wonderfully varied, from her own “My Father”, to Ian Tyson’s “Someday Soon”, Leonard Cohen’s brooding “Bird On The Wire” and most of all Robin Williamson’s “First Boy I Loved”; the singing is perfectly suited to the material; and the deft all-star accompanists are loose and deft.”

I think I said something roughly along those lines but I couldn’t match the brevity.

Here’s Judy in ’76 with a certain Canadian gentleman you might have heard of – “We sang it all night”.

 

FOOTNOTES

1. I make no apology for starting my piece in a similar manner to the Notes on the box set, Forever Changing: The Golden Age Of Elektra Records 1963 – 1973. While the issue of Judy Collins 3 might seem a slightly arbitrary start point, it gives us a snapshot of the American folk scene – centred on New York but with outlying pockets in several of the university cities – in transition from traditional handed-down music to songs from people who would be called singer/songwriters in the not too distant future. Only a year or two later this music would also be influential in the new folk rock scene.

2. Having made the statement above, I’m aware that I owe the reader some back story on Judy. So, here goes:

She was born on 1st May 1939 in Seattle. Her father, Charles “Chuck” Thomas, a radio singer and MC encouraged her to follow a musical career and she started on piano when still five years old. By the age of eleven, the family was in Denver, Colorado having moved several times, and Judy was studying with one of the first women conductors, Antonia Brico. Reportedly, she gave piano performances of Mozart and Rachmaninoff compositions in public. Dr. Brico felt that Judy had the potential to be a concert pianist and was less than pleased when her student gave up the instrument having fallen in love with folk music. She took up guitar and started performing in folk clubs in Denver and nearby Boulder. Her new husband was awarded a teaching fellowship at the University of Connecticut and they moved to that city in 1960. She performed on the campus radio station and at clubs up and down the east coast. Soon she was travelling to Greenwich Village, New York City to appear at Gerdes Folk City.

Jac Holzman signed Judy to Elektra in 1961. Recording sessions took place in August that year and her first LP, A Maid Of Constant Sorrow was released in October. Both it and its successor, Golden Apples Of The Sun were almost completely traditional in content with low key accompaniment, but Judy Collins 3 paid tribute to several of the established and up and coming song writers of the day including Dylan. This process continued and extended through to Fifth Album, the admirably succinct title of album #5. It’s worth noting that the reputation that Elektra had built up over the years on the presentation of their product, where they vied with another New York label, Blue Note, for eye-catching LP cover designs, was certainly not wasted on the Collins albums. The lady’s photogenic qualities with those buy-this-LP eyes, certainly looked good in record shop windows. Regardless of visual qualities however, Judy didn’t neglect her voice. From the late sixties on she worked with voice teacher Max Margulis to increase her range and improve her phrasing and clarity.

I’m overlapping with the main text here so I’ll stop, but I will say that while Judy became more mainstream over the years she never quite lost interest in her more theatrical or out-there projects.

3. Bob Gibson, who died in 1996, was an American folk singer and songwriter who played a significant role in the folk music revival of the late fifties and early sixties, though his name is less well remembered now compared with others from that era. He recorded albums for several labels including three for Elektra with his best known one probably being Bob Gibson And Bob Camp At The Gate Of Horn. In Mojo magazine #300 (November 2018 issue), Roger McGuinn states in reference to that album:

“I was there in Chicago when they recorded it (in April 1961), and Bob Gibson came to my high school and turned me onto folk music, so it was very influential. There’s something really dynamic about the interplay between them. It was pre-Beatles, but there was a whole lot of energy, great harmonies, great rhythm, more like jazz than rock‘n’roll.”

4. Pete Seeger wrote Turn! Turn! Turn! in the late fifties. Wiki has a fine description of the lyrical content of the number: “The lyrics, except for the title, which is repeated throughout the song, and the final two lines, are adapted word-for-word from the English version of the first eight verses of the third chapter of the biblical Book of Ecclesiastes.” It was first recorded by the Limeliters folk group on their album Folk Matinee in 1962. They used the title To Everything There Is A Season. In 1960, Roger McGuinn (when he was still Jim) worked the L.A. coffee house circuit as instrumentalist for the Limeliters (source: Interview with McGuinn in Rolling Stone) and it has been reported that Turn! Turn! Turn! was already in their stage set and that he brought the song to Judy, though I haven’t seen that corroborated. Whether Roger appears on the album is moot; the Wiki essay is ambiguous at this point and McGuinn was, at that time, reported to be working with Bobby Darin.

Pete Seeger recorded his own version of Turn! Turn! Turn! a few months after the Limeliters. The Byrds’ version formed their third single in 1965 and was also the title of their second album. While the Byrds production is heavier, in rock terms, than Judy’s, it still retains what McGuinn refers to in the Wiki essay as “that samba beat”.

5. Fred Hellerman was a founder member of the Weavers folk group along with Pete Seeger, Lee Hays and Ronnie Gilbert. He also wrote or co-wrote several of their songs, sometimes under an alias. It was the Weavers who are often quoted as the inspiration for the late fifties/early sixties folk boom which brought artists like the Kingston Trio, Harry Belafonte and Peter, Paul and Mary to the fore, and hit parade fame. Earlier, during the Senator Joe McCarthy era, the Weavers were blacklisted due to suspected communist sympathies.

6. Prior to conducting some research for this piece, I had rather vaguely supposed that the Richard Fariña number Pack Up Your Sorrows was in some way related to the World War I marching song, Pack Up Your Troubles In Your Old Kit Bag And Smile! Smile! Smile!, in the knowledge that Richard had spent some time in the U.K. (and Ireland). But I was wrong. You’ll note that a Pauline Marden is sometimes listed as a co-writer in the song credits. She was the sister of Joan and Mimi Baez and married a man called Brice Marden. She apparently came up with the title phrase one day and it was this that inspired Richard to go on and write the song. He gave Pauline a co-writer credit as a thank you. I am informed that this story is covered in the book, “Positively 4th Street: The Lives And Times Of Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, Mimi Baez Fariña and Richard Fariña” by David Hajdu.

7. I’ve made comment in the main text about particularly striking tracks appearing at the start and/or end of albums. This was highly likely to be due to Jac. In “Follow The Music”, Judy comments “Then we fought about sequencing the tracks. Jac generally won. He was usually right. He had a big picture idea about how things worked.” The reader is entitled to comment that Jac’s brilliant positioning of tracks would seem to have deserted him on Wildflowers since it was track #6, Both Sides Now, which went on to achieve fame. I’d respond to that in two ways. Firstly it was the first track on side 2 of the LP which is itself of significance in terms of positioning. Secondly, it was the one chosen to be a single (albeit belatedly) which ensured some degree of radio play. Who’s to say that, if the final LP track, Hey, That’s No Way To Say Goodbye, had been selected it might have had a similar degree of success; it seems a very good rendition to me and the Cohen version hadn’t yet seen LP release, nor did it ever get released as a single (to the best of my knowledge).

8. In the booklet that was part of the “Forever Changing” package, Judy comments re. In My Life:

“We were really eager to break out of the folk mould. There was something limiting about the folk situation, so we wanted to move laterally into other kinds of material. I’d been a concert pianist and had studied and been exposed to all kinds of music since childhood and I had an eclectic sense of music so it was perfect to be allowed to make more oddball and dramatic choices.”

9. Re. Priests, the Leonard Cohen song that wasn’t recorded/released, I found a comment in the “Leonard Cohen forum” which stated:

“When Tom Sakic wrote to Leonard in 2007 to ask why “Priests” wasn’t on Songs of LC re-release, he answered “They (Sony) didn’t find it, I maybe have it somewhere.””.

10. According to the Leonard Cohen Files, outside of Judy’s version, there have only been two other recordings of his song Priests, one from Richie Havens and the other from Spanish flamenco singer, Enrique Morente. While I find the second version attractive, the fact that the song is sung in Spanish effectively removes the appeal or otherwise of the lyrics to a non-Spanish speaking audience.

11. David Anderle was a multi-skilled gentleman who operated out of Los Angeles. His talents included portrait painting in addition to record producing and artist management. He worked with MGM/Verve in the early to mid-sixties, persuading them to sign Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention. During this timeframe he was also instrumental in setting up Brother Records for the Beach Boys. He was staff producer for Elektra in their West Coast operation from 1968 to 1970, working with Judy, Love and The Doors. He then switched to A&M, switching to film music after a successful spell producing records for the likes of Aaron Neville and Kris Kristofferson.

12. Bird On The Wire appeared on Leonard Cohen’s 1969 album Songs From A Room. He has referred to it as a country song and indeed he was in a country/folk group in his very early days but the Collins version is far more country than Cohen’s own take. In the sleeve notes to the 1975 compilation, The Best Of Leonard Cohen, he wrote:

“I always begin my concert with this song. It seems to return me to my duties. It was begun in Greece and finished in a motel in Hollywood around 1969 along with everything else. Some lines were changed in Oregon. I can’t seem to get it perfect. Kris Kristofferson informed me that I had stolen part of the melody from another Nashville writer. He also said that he’s putting the first couple of lines on his tombstone, and I’ll be hurt if he doesn’t.”

It is believed that the song Kristofferson was referring to was Turn Me On by country singer/songwriter John D. Loudermilk which was recorded by Mark Dinning in 1961. It was a powerful record, somewhere between country and teen rockaballad (think Conway Twitty). There are later versions from Nina Simone and Norah Jones (separately). There certainly is some similarity in the opening lines and the broad melodic structure but that in no way diminishes Bird On The Wire.

13. The song The First Girl I Loved appears on the 1967 Incredible String Band album, The 5000 Spirits Or The Layers Of The Onion. Jackson Browne recorded it, I presume, during that long spell when David Lindley was working with him as accompanist. It turned up in a mixed compilation entitled Rubáiyát in 1990. It’s possible that Lindley, who was something of a musicologist as evidenced in his Kaleidoscope days, may have picked up the song from the original or, more mundanely, Browne might have heard it on Judy’s album.

Judy herself would probably have come across the number (or had it suggested to her) because the ISB were that relatively rare thing, British, or more specifically Scottish, artists signed to Elektra. However, I have been informed by Our Esteemed Editor that the ISB supported Judy on a short tour of the UK in November ’66 and it’s possible that the song was in their stage repertoire at the time.

14. My reference to “near three octave voice” came from Professor Nathan Bernstein in the Opera Blog of Edmund St. Austell wherein Edmund states in his introduction that Judy “possesses an extraordinary voice and certainly belongs in the company of the singers one finds in Great Opera Singers!” Within the main body of the document Professor Bernstein states that Judy’s conversion to folk was kicked off by hearing (forties/fifties pop singer) Jo Stafford singing the song Barbara Allen on the radio.

15. According to Richie Unterberger in “Jingle Jangle Morning: Folk-Rock In The 1960s”, Dylan wrote I’ll Keep It With Mine in Greece in the Spring of 1964. Nico, with whom he was having an affair at the time, claimed he offered the song to her. There’s speculation, though, that the lyrics are actually directed to Suze Rotolo but there’s also reasonably firm evidence that Bob was offering it to several ladies, including Ms Baez and Ms Collins. Apart from Judy’s own claims to this effect there’s a fairly strong statement in the sleeve notes to Dylan’s Biograph in reference to the version included, “This rare tape, recorded for Judy Collins, is a heartfelt Dylan performance at the piano.”

Regardless of just who the song was actually written for, Richie is complimentary about the Collins version, including it in his imaginary box set of folk rock which is a splendid appendix to “Jingle Jangle Morning”. He also states that Al Kooper was on organ for the session, increasing the sonic connection to “Highway 61” era Dylan.

In researching the song I dug out an excellent blog from Tony Attwood on the meaning of the lyrics and the music (and apart from Tony’s fine writing and analysis I guess I would say “excellent” because he largely agrees with my conclusions). Tony reminds us that Dylan evidently felt I’ll Keep It With Mine was not without merit since he went back to it several times, possibly because he was never satisfied; it didn’t see release until the more recent trawls through the archives.

With respect to Judy’s version, she wasn’t happy with it at all. The comment that Richie recorded from her runs:

“There’s a very good reason that it never made it onto an album. It’s not a very good song, particularly. Certainly not a Dylan song that lives up to its name. It doesn’t really go anywhere, the lyric’s kind of flat, and the singing is very flat.”

16. Several gentlemen have played significant parts in the Judy Collins story and I would point the reader to Toppermosts already in existence for Roger McGuinn & the Byrds from Colin Duncan (I would have included Turn! Turn! Turn! but it’s Colin’s ten not mine), Richard and Mimi Fariña from Kasper Nijsen and Leonard Cohen from Jerry Tenenbaum, Lucretia van den Berg and Peter Viney.

17. In, at least, partial answer to those readers who feel their favourite tracks have been neglected, here is Judy Blue Eyes, as Steve Stills called her, with a live version of her own song, My Father. (Did she borrow that 12 string from McGuinn?)

We’d go boating on the Seine and I would learn to dance

 

 

Judy Collins official website

Judy Collins Discography

“Sweet Judy Blue Eyes: My Life in Music” by Judy Collins (2012)

Judy Collins biography (iTunes)

Dave Stephens is the author of two books on popular music. His first, “RocknRoll”, is described by one reviewer as “probably the most useful single source of information on 50s & 60s music I’ve come across”. Dave followed this up with “London Rocks” in 2016, an analysis of the early years of the London (American) record label in the UK. You can follow him on Twitter @DangerousDaveXX

TopperPost #747

3 Comments

  1. Andrew Shields
    Oct 26, 2018

    Dave, thanks for this fine piece. Have always had mixed feelings about Judy. On the one hand, I think she has a fabulous voice, while,on the other, her interpretations of other artists’ songs often leave me a bit cold. This piece, however, gives me the opportunity to reassess that opinion and explore her work more thoroughly. Also, she did a great service in bringing attention to a lot of very fine songwriters, including Eric Andersen (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q841UwxzMF0_

  2. Peter Viney
    Nov 2, 2018

    Lots of stuff I didn’t know in there. I’ve seen her in concert twice (https://peterviney.wordpress.com/peter-viney-music-rock-the-band-record-cover/concert-reviews/judy-collins-2013/) and I link the 2013 one. There’s a link within it to the 2010 show. Her role in introducing new artists extends beyond Leonard Cohen (she can be credited with launching his singing career) to Joni Mitchell. She released the 45s of Both Sides Now and Chelsea Morning before Joni’s “Clouds” album. Her “Judy Collins Sings Leonard Cohen: Democracy” album is essential listening. One of my choices would be the duet with Joan Baez on “Diamonds & Rust” (2010). The three Js, Judy, Joni & Joan form a triumvirate in female American folk song. If you find an Elektra UK 45 in a record store, the most likely title is Amazing Grace by Judy Collins, the next most likely is Both Sides Now. Her version of Send In The Clowns is worthy of mention.

    • Dave Stephens
      Nov 2, 2018

      Thanks Andrew and Peter, perceptive comments as always. I was wondering whether someone would bring up “Send In The Clowns”. I certainly don’t dislike the record and can see that it appealed to Judy’s sense of theatre.

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